The head of the city agency created to coordinate off-duty security jobs for New Orleans police officers appeared before a City Council committee Wednesday to propose higher pay rates for cops willing to work hard-to-fill details. What John Salomone got in return was an earful from council members frustrated over a nagging rift between Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration and officers over the rules of the paid security work.
Some council members suggested it was time to ask a federal judge to loosen the constraints on the system, which are laid out in a federal consent decree that Landrieu and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder signed in July 2012 governing an array of NOPD reforms.
Salomone, head of the Office of Police Secondary Employment inside City Hall, introduced a plan for a new, “flexible” pay system to replace the flat rate that the council adopted last August. That plan set hourly pay for NOPD detail work at $29.33 an hour for lower-ranking officers and up to $39 for top NOPD brass.
He acknowledged those rates had failed to draw enough officers to meet the demand, leaving some customers in the lurch and searching elsewhere for private, uniformed security.
Salomone proposed letting the city charge some customers “plus” or “max” hourly rates, at the city’s discretion. The “plus” rate would range from $39 an hour for regular officers to $51 for captains and above, with the “max” rate at $73 an hour, with $70.50 going to the officer, regardless of rank.
That proposal didn’t seem to enthrall members of the council’s Criminal Justice Committee. They deferred a vote on the revised plan until new council members are seated next week, but, meanwhile, they peppered Salomone with questions about the new off-duty detail system, intended to replace the age-old practice under which some officers negotiated their own off-duty deals directly with customers and then doled out work to fellow cops.
Among the biggest gripes is that officers who work regular details for particular customers must now rotate out of them after a year. Customers who have grown accustomed to working with certain officers hate that demand, Salomone acknowledged.
“The rotation issue is chief among the reasons customers decide to go with a different provider,” he said.
Departing Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, who has two sons on the force, pressed Salomone to better document the impact of the forced rotations.
Committee Chairwoman Susan Guidry said afterward that she is drafting a resolution, to be introduced to the new council as early as May 8, asking U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan to end the rotation requirement. That would mean amending the consent decree, which Morgan approved in January 2013.
“It’s extremely important to people to have a police officer who knows their area, their neighborhood,” Guidry said.
She argued that the rationale for the rotations — to avoid “all kinds of possibilities of corruption” in the relationship between cops and their regular customers — was alleviated with creation of the new office charged with coordinating all NOPD details with customers and then paying the officers.
“If you take away that direct payment, I think the reason to have the rotation requirement goes away,” Guidry said.
In the meantime, Guidry, Hedge-Morrell and Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell pressed Salomone on the shortage of officers willing to work under the new regime.
Cantrell wanted to know why just 215 of the more than 800 officers who have been approved to work details have actually done so in the four months since the city started coordinating them.
Salomone, who at times grew edgy at the suggestion that he wasn’t communicating well enough with officers, said it may be that officers prefer to work NOPD overtime shifts, which have become more abundant as the department struggles through a deepening manpower shortage that has left it with only about 1,150 officers. That’s down from more than 1,500 when Landrieu and Superintendent Ronal Serpas took office in 2010.
Earlier in the week, the city’s chief administrative officer, Andy Kopplin, acknowledged that discounted administrative fees in the proposed new pay plan — a kind of “frequent flier” program — would contribute to an expected revenue shortfall of $500,000 to $700,000 in 2014 for the new office, which is required to pay for itself under the federal consent decree.
Salomone said he couldn’t predict when, or whether, the office would begin paying for itself. “It’s possible that we could see a turn toward the end of the year — a turn for the better,” he said.
Eric Hessler, an attorney with the Police Association of New Orleans, noted that the proposed new pay plan doesn’t raise the basic rate for off-duty details.
“This is certainly a bribery of sorts to get officers to work details they simply can’t fill,” Hessler said.
Salomone acknowledged that the higher pay for some detail jobs may not entice officers who “are just opposed philosophically to the consent decree and anything that is related to the consent decree.”
Still, city figures show the office is ramping up quickly, recently surpassing $100,000 in detail jobs over a two-week period — a first for the new office.